News Flash: Trial Begins in “Bismuth Awareness” Charity Fraud Case

La Satira News Service

Millions of people every day consume a product known to contain a radioactive heavy metal.  Most of them don’t even know they’re doing so.  And it’s all perfectly legal.

Moreover, the decay product of that substance is an even more dangerous material.

Or such was the claim of Fred Lavoisier, the chairman and chief fundraiser of the grass-roots advocacy group “Taking Care of Bismuth,” which purports to lobby for increased public awareness of the use of bismuth, the chief component of the “pink bismuth” family of digestive health products.

Mr. Lavoisier’s organization is the subject of a lawsuit from the Bandwagon Society, which claims the group is giving a bad name to legitimate charity and advocacy groups. and raising money for uncharitable purposes.

The move is an unusual one for the Bandwagon Society, which bills itself as an advocacy group for advocacy groups in general.  “If they want to advocate for something, they ought to advocate for something meaningful,” said Ms. Kelpie Berger-Picard, president of the Bandwagon Society, “like maybe awareness of frivolous advocacy groups.”

Much of the testimony in the trial is likely to center on the actual risk posed by bismuth in the context of bismuth subsalicylate, the active ingredient in the digestive medicine, as well as bismuth per se.

“Bismuth occupies a curious place in the periodic table,” said Dr. Haas Avogadro, professor of chemistry at the University of Punxsutawney, in a preliminary hearing.  “It’s in a neighborhood full of rougher elements like mercury, lead, thallium, polonium, and radon.  It’s in the same family as antimony and arsenic.  And yet it’s pretty much harmless.  It’s like running into the one genuinely nice kid in an otherwise disagreeable group, or a politician with genuine moral scruples.”

“Nobody’s suggesting it as a vitamin supplement, of course,” added Dr. Avogadro, “and you can make nasty chemical compounds out of almost any element; but as heavy metals go, it’s not so bad.”

Even the radioactivity claim is absurdly overstated, Dr. Avogadro said.  “Sure, it decays into thallium–but with a half-life of roughly 19 quintillion years, it’s not going to do much in the average human life span, much less in the few days it’s active in the body.  For the average dose of pink bismuth, we’re talking about maybe 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms of bismuth, of which maybe two or three atoms per day might decay into thallium.  There’s no way you’re going to get a meaningful dose–you’d get very, very sick from the other ingredients long before that.  As for radiation, you could get more of that by going out and planting petunias.”

The National Association of Commercial Petunia Growers immediately decried the comparison.  “How dare Dr. Avogadro make this irresponsible statement,” said Hyacinth Gardner, this year’s association president.  “There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that petunias are any more radioactive than any other gardening plant.”  Ms. Gardner suggested that any rise in employee health insurance premiums resulting from Dr. Avogadro’s comments would be paid for with the proceeds of a defamation lawsuit against the University of Punxsutawney.

Meanwhile, back at the courthouse, Mr. Lavoisier pled innocent to charity fraud on the grounds that the charity fulfilled the purpose expressed in the fundraising materials.

“Strictly speaking,” said attorney Henry Schlumpf, who is defending Mr. Lavoisier in the case, “the charity only solicited funds to help raise bismuth awareness.  After this trial, I don’t think anyone will dispute that my client has done exactly that.  He never promised to do anything about it.”

When asked how his client had spent the money raised in the campaign, the attorney replied, “I really don’t think it’s any of the court’s bismuth…. business, I mean.”

The bismuth subsalicylate producers’ trade association is also considering filing a lawsuit for defamation against Mr. Lavoisier and his organization.  There is no word as yet whether the increased legal scrutiny is inducing in Mr. Lavoisier any symptoms such as heartburn or indigestion, or whether, if such symptoms did manifest themselves, he would seek to relieve them using bismuth subsalicylate.

Copyright 2012.

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